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Former England football captain David Beckham, right, and London Mayor Boris Johnson attend a handover for the Olympic flame at Panathenaean stadium in Athens, Thursday, May 17, 2012. The torch begins its 70-day journey to arrive at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, from the Greek capital, to cover about 8,000-mile (12,875-kilometer) on its progress over many parts of England to start the games. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Burn it like Beckham: the Olympic flame
Torch relay » The flame arrives in southwestern England from Greece before a 70-day journey for the 2012 Games.
First Published May 18 2012 12:23 pm • Last Updated May 18 2012 02:16 pm

Athens, Greece • David Beckham wants two things: the flame to burn right and a spot on Britain’s Olympic team.

The former England national team captain and Los Angeles Galaxy star will light a cauldron at a ceremony Friday when the flame arrives in southwestern England from Greece on the eve of a 70-day torch relay for the 2012 London Olympics.

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"I hope it lights," he said with a chuckle.

Beckham, Princess Anne and London organizing chairman Sebastian Coe are escorting the flame, a symbol of peace and unity that harkens back to the origins of the games in ancient Greece.

Beckham been involved in the London Games since the organizing committee launched its successful bid in 2005m and the 37-year-old is excited about the chance to welcome the world to his "hood" in east London.

His star power — the kind that sends children into shrieks of hysteria and turns diplomats’ wives in Athens into paparazzi — is part of the reason the International Olympic Committee took notice of the London bid over Paris, the favorite.

While Beckham the celebrity isn’t shirking the attention the Olympic torch brings, Beckham the athlete really, really wants to take part on the pitch.

"I’ve never played in an Olympic Games," he said. "Obviously, I’d love to."

"I’ve always made it clear that I love representing my country," he added. "I’ve done that quite a few times."

He’s done that 115 times, to be precise, with the England team.

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Beckham has been included in coach Stuart Pearce’s 80-man shortlist that will be whittled down to 18 players in the coming weeks to form Britain’s first Olympic soccer squad since 1960. If chosen, he would be one of the three players over age 23 allowed on each Olympic squad.

Many a camera will be turned to the photogenic Beckham when the flame arrives at a Royal Navy air station in Cornwall on Friday night. The flame, traveling on the gold-painted British Airways Flight 2012, will be carried off by Princess Anne in a lantern. Beckham then will carry it to a gold-and-white cauldron, assuming it won’t be too windy.

No matter what, there will be a backup. On the plane, the flame gets seats 1A and 1B all to itself. There are four flames just in case, all guarded by security.

All this might sound like a lot of attention for a bit of a fire, but London’s Olympic organizers are hoping the flame’s arrival can generate excitement about the games.

The torch will be carried all over the British Isles by 8,000 chosen volunteers, mostly local heroes. Its 8,000-mile journey will linger on the iconic sites — the tower of Big Ben, Stonehenge, the white cliffs of Dover — and speed past less-appealing areas. It ends up July 27 at Olympic Stadium in London.

Bookies are taking bets now on whether Beckham will be chosen open the Olympics by lighting the cauldron in London — a job he told reporters in Athens that he’d love to do. Other favorites include Roger Bannister, the first sub-four-minute miler, rower Steve Redgrave, Coe, Queen Elizabeth II or other members of Britain’s royal family.

But no word on that — Coe says the decision hasn’t even been discussed yet. For the moment, Beckham’s just thrilled to light the cauldron at the navy base at Culdrose, southern England.

"Being here today just makes it all that real," he said in Athens. "Being handed the torch is the start of the games."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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